Ajax come of age to end Real Madrid's Champions League hopes

Ajax's young guns stun Real

On Tuesday night we saw the emphatic ending to one of the most dominant eras in modern history, with Real Madrid's grasp on the Champions League brought to a resounding halt. Santiago Solari's men were humiliated 1-4 at the Bernabeu (3-5 agg) to ensure that they failed to progress through to the quarter-finals for the first time since 2010 and in-turn go down to their heaviest ever home defeat in the competition. This means that there will be a new name on the trophy for the first time in 4 years and on the flip side it would've given a young Ajax side the confidence that they can beat anyone.

Erik ten Hag's men produced a real performance for the ages, battling back from a disappointing, agonising first leg defeat to somehow overcome Europe's most successful football club. Not since 2003 have Ajax progressed through to the quarter-finals of the Champions League, with Tuesday's performance one of the best since their title winning campaign back in 1995.

The Eredivise Champions' squad is one that's often dismantled when big money offers come in so ten Hag deserves an awful lot of credit for forging this fantastic team, which will certainly feel that the sky is the limit. It has a good blend of youth and experience, with the superb duo of Matthijs de Ligt and Barcelona-bound Frenkie De Jong really epitomising the clubs culture with mature, commanding performance well beyond their tender years. Tuesday night will go down as one of Ajax's greatest ever nights but could there be more to follow as we approach the home straight of the Champions League?

Era defining night in Madrid

They may not have enjoyed the European success of yesteryear, but Ajax are still regarded as one of the biggest names when it comes to football in Europe. The 4 times European cup winners have a reputation for producing some of the worlds greatest players and they still continue to dominate domestically, but Tuesday night saw them take a massive, exciting step towards what could be an exciting future. Their clash with Real Madrid at the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu was their biggest since the 2017 Europa League final vs Man Utd where they were beaten 2-0, this time things were very different.

Erik ten Hag's men produced an era defining display in the Spanish capital for a number of reasons, one being that Real Madrid's firm grasp on the trophy after three successive wins came to a stunning, resounding halt. But we also saw young talents such as De Jong, de Ligt, David Neres and Donny van de Beek produce absolutely sublime performance. Ajax's academy is heralded as one of (if not the) best in world football and these youngsters really come of age at the Bernabeu, silencing what is usually a cauldron full of noise.

Dusan Tadic
Dusan Tadic delivered one of the all-time great Bernabeu performances

ten Hag described his sides performance as 'close to perfection' and we don't think you'll find anyone who disagrees with him on that. Defensively sound, efficient in possession and ruthless on the counter attack, it was as good-a-display as you're going to see in the Champions League this season and it even led to sections of the Los Blancos faithful giving them a standing ovation. There were several heroes out on that pitch but the one who produced some unbelievable magic was former Southampton man Dusan Tadic, who delivered a man-of-the-match performance.

Bought for just £11m last summer, Tadic has been a rejuvenated character back in the Eredivise, scoring 26 goals in a fantastic debut campaign. In the Premier League he was seen as more of a playmaker and winger, but in ten Hag's 4-3-3 he's been utilised more often than not as a false 9, which worked to great effect in the Bernabeu. Raphael Varane and Nacho Fernandez just couldn't cope with his movement off the ball and when he received it, he really was something else. His performance saw him earn a 10/10 from French newspaper L'Equipe, becoming just the ninth player in history to receive such an accolade and i's richly deserved.

Follow in Monaco's footsteps?

When the draw for the last 16 Ajax were the team that everyone wanted to face but last nights showing has certainly changed the perception of the Dutch giants. Their young side has all the ability to emulate the success of Monaco's great side of 2016/17 which surprised everyone to make the semi-finals of the Champions League - defeating the likes of Tottenham, Manchester City and Borussia Dortmund before being stopped by Juventus. Their team was dismantled for mega money in the summer that followed and Ajax's supporters will be praying that it isn't the case at the John Cruyff Arena.

Frenkie De Jong's inevitable departure has already been announced for a club record fee which could rise well above £70m to Barcelona, whilst the likes of David Neres and more so Matthijs de Ligt also have plenty of suitors. The latter is without a doubt the jewel in their crown and it shows what a player the 19 year-old is, with him already made club captain. He produced another dominating display in the heart of defence to keep out Bale, Benzema & co on Tuesday night and you really feel that if he is to leave Amsterdam it would require a world record fee - which means eclipsing Virgil van Dijk's £75m transfer to Liverpool.

Frenkie De Jong
Tuesday night really felt like the midfield baton was being passed down to the next generation - Frenkie De Jong absolutely bossed Luka Modric & Toni Kroos

No one expected Ajax to make it to this stage of the Champions League but such is the nature of their young, talented side, they'll see this as the beginning. Not just beating Real Madrid but humiliating them in their own back yard will do their confidence wonders and they'll feel that they're capable of getting a result against any side left in the competition. This result has grabbed the most headlines and understandably so, but they've proven in this years tournament that they're capable of mixing it up with the big boys.

Draws with Bayern Munich (1-1 & 3-3) prove what a difficult side they are to beat and the rest of their European adventure is certainly going to be a rollercoaster ride. The draw for quarter-finals and semi-finals of the UEFA Champions League takes place in Nyom on Friday 15th March and they'll certainly be watching it with plenty of interest. Tuesday's heroics has put Ajax firmly back on the map and we're sure they've picked up plenty of fans for their brand of attacking football - they surely can't repeat the magic of the 1994/95 campaign, can they?


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